Guest column
Bathroom debate: Common decency cries out for boundaries

Darrell Ehrlick’s guest column (Missoulian, May 25) requires a response. Not everyone would agree with his statement, “What goes on in a bathroom is no big deal because we have made a choice to be private but not panicked.” I, for one, do not concur. What goes on in a bathroom is a big deal because we have made a choice to be private and yet protected.

Before I elaborate further, let me clearly state that I am not unsympathetic to the 0.3 percent of the U.S. population who genuinely struggles with transgender issues. Nor do I believe that the transgender population is fraught with sexual predators, any more than any other sexual orientation.

Sexual predators exist simply because evil exists in our world, and the vast majority of sex offenders are male. The center for Sex Offender Management (March 2012) reported that less than 1 percent of all incarcerated rape and sexual assault offenders were female.

Like any predator, sexual predators target the vulnerable and intentionally seek out places where their victims gather. Is the hair on the back of your neck starting to stand up, or is it just me?

Darrell Ehrlick mentioned his 4-year-old son. Obviously, sharing a bathroom with your own child within a family setting is much different than using a public restroom. For exactly this reason, it’s fairly common to find a 4-year-old boy using the women’s restroom, escorted by his mother.

Mothers recognize that sending a young boy unescorted into the men’s restroom could leave them vulnerable to sexual predators who might be watching for an opportunity. To eliminate any chance this might occur, the mother brings him with her, since it’s her responsibility to protect her child.

Similarly, any healthy society establishes boundaries for protecting its members. It’s OK for adults to have consensual sex but it’s not OK to rape someone. It’s OK to actively dislike someone but it’s not OK to assault someone—and so on.

Having separate public restrooms for men and women is a healthy and safe boundary because it protects and prevents against possible misuse and abuse by those with criminal intent. We know there is potential for genderless restrooms to be misused—it’s already happened.

As a reasonably attractive female, I am already always at some level of surveillance when I’m without my husband in public. Panicked, no. Watchful, yes. I wear my wedding ring. I don’t reciprocate uninvited flirtatious behavior. And while I don’t avoid eye contact with men I don’t know, I don’t make excessive eye contact, either. I’m just generally aware of where men are and what vibe they are sending, even if it’s at a very low-key, subconscious level.

This is just daily life for most women; we recognize that some men need very little encouragement. Of course, any decent man will respect boundaries, but it’s not the decent men I’m watching for.

Genderless restrooms will take this to a whole other level. Instead of women and girls being able to let their guard down in their most vulnerable and private moments, they will need to be more hyper-alert than ever. Is that male present in your restroom space because he’s confused about gender, a sexual predator or sent there on a dare to report back to his buddies?

Because, yes, the thought of having genderless bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools terrifies me. My children are grown now, but I’m quite aware that a 14 year-old boy with raging hormones under intense peer pressure might well accept a dare from his buddies to pose as transgender—perhaps even to film a young girl in a private moment and put it on social media. I can’t even begin to imagine the can of worms this scenario opens.

When I think of men and women treated as one with no opportunity for common privacy and modesty, I think of oppression—concentration camps and prison cells—where lack of dignity and respect are standard.

Common decency cries out for certain boundaries. Let’s not make oppressive mandates the norm.

Diane Tucker Lake is a writer, minister, and Missoula native.

Posted in The Missoulian.

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Last modified: February 2, 2021